Bravestation’s back! After stowing away for half a year, the Toronto band who I feel like describing today as mystical wave rock have put forth their first new offering, “Signs of the Civilized,” from their upcoming album.
“Signs of the Civilized” is airy and promising. It flutters and flaps its wings like a baby bird getting ready for its first take-off while under the tree it sits in, there are fish in a stream swimming down their yearly route as the ground seems to thaw. Bravestation’s rejuvenated, bringing the spring closer to us than global warming already has (and for that I’m thankful, to be honest).
Take a listen to the calm confidence. You can download the track in exchange for your email address.
Here’s Part One of my Best of 2011 coverage — the best EPs and shorter albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year.
1. Beth Ditto – self titled
Whenever I needed a dose of girl power this year that wasn’t more aggressive (at those times, I’d play Le Tigre), Beth Ditto was my girl. I adore this EP because not only did it get Beth Ditto back into a spotlight where she should be and pair her to really good dance music with Simian Mobile Disco, but her lyrics are inspiring and empowering. This was an EP that had me dancing while doing the dishes, walking to work and at parties. I only hope we hear from Beth or her band, Gossip, sometime soon.
2. Jeans Boots – txt msgs
Another empowering female, Jeans Boots took my breath away this year with txt msgs. I still remember her hair flying all over the Horseshoe’s stage and her shiny, sparkly dress from when she came many months ago with her other band Slow Down, Molasses. This lady’s got guts, a powerful voice and her mysterious air keeps you interested. And, random extra points, she’s an arts journalist for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.
3. Army Girls – Close to the Bone
This really was a year that ladies took over in music for me. (See my top 10 albums to come as well.) Carmen Elle’s voice is mesmerizing and even though it feels like she’s punching you in the gut, it’s the sweetest damn punches you’ll ever feel. Paired with Andy Smith, these two came up with a dynamic that’s really worked for them, and Close to the Bone was a beautiful release. I’m excited for more from them in the future.
4. We Are the City – High School
I spent a good amount of time at the beginning of the year getting to know We Are the City and their transformations for an article for Exclaim. I feel like I really got to see a lot of growth from them since their first album came out last year, and it made me proud. I think High School was a huge accomplishment for them as people and as a band, and they’ve still got so much more ahead of them if they keep on that path. The songs on High School are quite catchy and my favourite, “Dark/Warm Air” even got the drummer Andy onto main vocals.
I just can’t get enough of the weird music that comes out of this band (formerly part of Long Long Long). They’ve got this distant way of angling everything that turns the floors upside down and lets you figure out what to do. Taking Trips came out of nowhere to me when I realized Long Long Long broke up (and yes, I realized months later) so this was a pleasant surprise. “Goosing Statues” is a wicked song.
7. Heartbeat Hotel – Intae Woe
Their most cohesive album yet, Intae Woe gives Heartbeat Hotel more lasting power. It’s dreamy and chill with the best of em, but the hooks and melodies are ones that will stick around like wisps in the air.
8. Nightbox – self titled
A short dance soundtrack for me earlier this year, Nightbox came out with full force to Canada and now they’ve had a show on Much Music, toured with Lights and played with Death From Above 1979. Pretty good year for these lads!
9. Armen at the Bazaar – Noor
Armen is equally as interesting to hear as he is to watch. As a one man band electronic set-up with big goals, he’s got a lot to do, and pulls it off nicely. Noor is quirky, pretty and intriguing, and like I’ve said before, his rendition of “Over the Rainbow” is awesome. I’ve seen him live a couple times this year and I do hope that in the future I can see him play full rooms, but perhaps more in a DJ capacity, as he elongates some of his songs into full dance numbers that should be enjoyed like that.
10. Long Long Long – Who the Fuck Said Family Ain’t Family No More
As mentioned above, Long Long Long were what birthed Each Other. But they’ve put out numerous solid releases under this name, and this is just one of them I’ve really liked. (Last year’s Shorts should have made my lists.) One of my favourite things about this then-East Coast band are the guitars, that sound like confusion but in an exciting way that makes you want to push through your mental capacities or just lie there for a while in the reverberating lines.
Consider this a premature review for an EP that won’t be released until January 10th. But seeing as WAZU is so kind to put up the three tracks up online for streaming, the good words need to be spread earlier than later.
I saw WAZU two weeks ago in Brooklyn. It was the first show I’ve ever been to outside a city I’ve lived in, and the first I’ve seen in New York City. I was in town with The Ruby Spirit, and this Aussie couple played the set just before the Toronto art pop-rockers. The Ruby Spirit curated the show, and have been fans of WAZU for a while, but this was the first I’d heard of them. Their curious stage persona was instantly appealing to me as Matt (WA) punkily plugged away on his guitar and Riz (ZU) played her synth with one hand and the other hand on her hip, donned in all black — an Adidas t-shirt, pants and jacket to the floor. With them in front of a movie projection, it was striking to their dark, electro pop.
WAZU have this sneaky charm about them, they seem to find optimism in the seediest places. These songs kind of taunt you and please you in a way you might not expect at first. What we hear from them is edgy and mysterious, and especially because we only have three songs right now, it definitely leaves you wanting more. (Their album is set for a May release.)
From the haunted house full of anxiety and zombies in “Murder 1″ with numerous pressure points (perhaps my favourite being the tornado synths at 1:15) and alternated hushed and rise-from-the-underbelly vocals to the upbeat whirligig with a killer hooked chorus that’s “Happy Endings” to “Walk All Night,” which is ghostly and lovely, WAZU shows a lot of promise and I know I’ll be paying attention throughout 2012 and you should too.
Army Girls, Bent by Elephants and The Elwins at The Garrison in Toronto, August 4, 2011.
It’s rare that a line-up of local and up-and-coming bands fits so well together for me. As soon as I heard of this show, I was dead set on going. Each of these bands deserve any praise they get right now, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them in the future. So here are my thoughts sorted from over the weekend about the event:
Army Girls took the 10pm slot instead of their scheduled midnight post, for a reason I’m unaware of. Carmen Elle and Andy Smith didn’t let the earlier eve faze them though, as they tore through their new material and let any stops between songs be filled with giggles, jokes and thanks. Carmen’s voice is incredibly strong and gorgeous, and put to her guitar playing is a sweet sucker punch to the gut and heart. Andy Smith’s drumming is relaxed and serves as backbone well; but he had a solo moment towards the end when he let loose a bit, and that was fun to see. I see great things for this new duo in the future, hopefully when they release Close to the Bone next month.
Check out “The Power.” (One of my favourite songs this summer.)
Bent by Elephants has been here a few times this summer already, so if you missed them again, I shake my head in your direction. These Montrealers bring jazz to indie rock in a big, big way and they get better every time I see them. Led by Chesley Walsh’s lovely croon and wide range, there’s a plethora of findings through the horns, guitars, upright bass and drums. It’s unfortunate that Charlotte Cornfield left the group to focus on her solo efforts (which is also pretty good, and she’s taking off pretty quickly), but new drummer Eric Dew brings a new sense of urgency and gusto to the group, especially when the focus is between him and bassist Paul van Dyk. The group played a handful of new songs that left my concert companion and me with goosebumps and jaws hanging. The band will be embarking on a long US/Canada-wide tour soon, and I’m quite excited for everyone else to hear them.
Check out “Saskatchewan Pool.”
The Elwins have been playing around Toronto so much all summer, it’s like there’s another show every week (and even this week there’s been at least three). So while that gives plenty of opportunities for us to see them, that means a lot of times I’d be able to say “I will see them soon.” But I finally saw them, and I can say that it was really fun. They’re all charmers, interacting with the audience via giving us buttons, starting a dance competition and more. They’re youthful, but they have the adult groove to make everyone move. All of these qualities prove for not only an entertaining live show but nods towards their work, excitement for what they’ll do next and oh, the thought that they’d make a terrific wedding band.
Dog Day is back. Halifax howlers Seth Smith and Nancy Urich have finally released their anticipated album that first fully sees them as a duo after last year’s split from Chrystal Thili and Robbie Sheddon. Deformer is that look we’ve all been waiting for closer into the duo’s dynamic. It’s refined but messy, sour but oh so sweet and droney but full of melody.
Dog Day’s sound hasn’t changed much, it’s just become a bit simpler, what with only four hands. You can barely tell though, as this married couple makes a lot of noise and sometimes adds some effects.
They both still have their trademark singing drones, which is interesting for the fact of how well they pull it off. I’m willing to bet if I heard many other acts sing like this, I wouldn’t be so pleased to the ears. But I can’t get enough of their vocals that flow so well together as Seth goes low and Nancy gets high, like in the point-blank “Nothing to Do.” (But when Seth works the notes up high on a ladder, it’s one of the finest points, like in the stellar ‘Part Girl” and “Scratches.”) Seth still rips at his noisy guitar, but now Nancy’s plodding away on the drums and even singing more lead parts (“Blueish Grey” is like that summer thunderstorm you’ve been waiting out). They’re shoegaze but starting to let more obvious fun slip into the cracks, whether it’s recording their dog Woofy while he yips during dreams or through the lyrics that are smart, tender, happy, honest, conscious of anything and everything.
When you showed up on the scene, I fell into a daydream. You’re not so bad
Deformer is a really enjoyable listen for multiple moods and headspaces. Seth and Nancy live in a forest, raise chickens and are actually two of the sweetest rockers you’ll meet. They’ve created something that both encapsulates their environment but is also accessible to those not living in the bubble.
I’ve been waiting for this album since 2009′s Concentration kicked things up a notch, but especially since I saw the duo play at Sneaky’s last summer, when it was clear they were pleased as their plump chickens to be in a space they wanted. Deformer is the confidence to their former shakiness, and Dog Day are all the better for it.
Someone took the life out of my heart, I won’t let it put me down, I used to have a negative approach, I’m turning it upside down, think positive, positive, positive, yeah yeah yeah
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Tosta Mista is the album of my summer 2011. And not only is it summery in a breezy, surf rock, fun, light-hearted party kind of way, or even the I feel like I’m on vacation with the Brady Bunch way, but it also dons the air of the ’50s, a time of nostalgia, polka dotted dresses, bowties, pumps and lots and lots of dancing. Sounds good, right? Right.
So Tosta Mista is clearly a grand old time, we will boogie oogie oogie like the best of ‘em when it marathons itself through every rotation. But one of the most notable qualities of the album is the change in this Toronto band’s sound. (Perhaps this has something to do with the main songwriters also having a surf rock sideproject, Tonka Puma.) Since last year’s cleverly titled Album, they’ve sped up, grown up and got down to business. Album was long-listed for this year’s Polaris Prize, but frankly, as much as I loved that album too, I wish it was this one that got the nomination. Listening to Tosta Mista blows Album right out of my mind. It’s sharper, wittier, faster, more refined and more aware of itself. The lyrics are snarky and memorable, filling songs with stories of love and hate and phrases like “legs like stems” and “gypsy gnome.” They’re thoughtful and point blank, something you can appreciate out of a song and write down as a note for later.
Tosta Mista is only 22 minutes long. And that includes three tracks of the same running trance interlude 30 seconds-long or less. So the album as a whole starts to feel like it’s racing itself to the clock towards the end until it’s broken up by one of the interludes or even the swoon and croon melody of “Den of Love.” The start of the album is the strongest, with “Clap,” “ESP,” “Brahma” and “Tosta Mista” all proving themselves as groovy gems. “ESP” is the best out of those, with “Tosta Mista” a close second.
Overall, Tosta Mista is a great album, showing significant growth and achievement for this band who just a year ago were still trying to rev themselves up in the local scene. I think we can say now they’re abandoning the “cute” moniker they were given with Album (I am guilty of saying such as well, but I was honest and still back that) and I assume that was a big goal of theirs. I also can honestly say I hope this boosts their live performance, as it hasn’t been their strongest suit when I’ve seen them in the past, but I think a cleaner sound could mean a cleaner set, easier to play through. I’m intrigued to see them again. I just hope that when I do see them play Tosta Mista they’re donned in ’50s garb.
It’s strange, sometimes my favourite music is the kind of music I can’t entirely wrap my head around. I don’t get it, nor do I feel like trying to. I just want to let it play at me, around me, on me, in me. The music might even be more important than the lyrics, sometimes. It’s the way it makes me feel. It’s like if someone was to crack open my head and see the inside thoughts and feelings as albums, what would they be?
Little Dragon’s minimal electro-soul album Ritual Union has joined this realm of music for me. I’ve been listening to it non-stop for weeks, and each time I get something new out of it. I’m starting to figure it out, but at first I just wanted it to grace my ears. I wanted to keep getting that feeling of exhilaration that an album hasn’t really given me this year yet because it’s just so good. Now when I listen, it makes me dance or tap my fingers on my purse or leg as I walk. It makes me think. It keeps me coming back. It does what it should.
So what is it about Ritual Union that I respond to?
The synths and percussion pairing
One cannot be without the other on Ritual Union. There are so many exciting layers. They’ll hit you in the face or you won’t even notice until a few listens in. They fit so effortlessly together, even though they could be moving at different beats and frequencies. But they’re not trying to be puzzle pieces and fit crevice to crevice. This is a stacked, 3D puzzle with a mind of its own, and your mind will be all “this works!” It’s hypnotizing.
Examples: “Ritual Union,” “Shuffle a Dream,” “Nightlight,” “Precious”
Yukimi Nagano’s voice
Woaaaah, soul! First off, you wouldn’t be able to tell girl’s from Sweden but doesn’t that make it so much sweeter knowing it? She shows control but passion, from starting us off a little on the vulnerable side in “Ritual Union” (and again in “Please Turn” as she wails ‘please! pull the string now! turn the winds all round and round!’) to coming into this vortex of confidence and attitude in “Brush the Heat” and “Precious” to reigning over mystery in “Nightlight.” She’s an incredible vocalist, with soul, R&B and pop tones. And it’s not just the instruments that are layered, she gets that treatment too.
Ritual Unions have got me in trouble again / I was wonderin’ how the white dress and the mistress and the spirit are holding my hand
There’s something missing in your smile / there’s something missing in your soul / are you suffering the blues? / Tell me why, tell me when, tell me why, when
I’m giving in to the rhythm on my feet / brush the heat
I fly like a heroine
Just some phrases I have caught and loved. From catching pieces of what Yukimi is singing, I’m intrigued to find out what they are. What I have heard (not just what’s here as an example) is enlightening and simply poetic.
Ritual Union is an album to me that just completely works. It knows itself and what it’s going for, and I just need to sit here and enjoy it. Every spark that the Little Dragons bring to their flame feels like it was well thought out in the process of their time together, but there are definitely fun moments that feel like someone could have pressed a key or a button and realized that it worked. Ritual Union is a stroke of luck in that sense and that it’s coming to us.
Little Dragon was introduced to me through their Glastonbury set by a coworker. Then I heard “Nightlight” and was put under a spell. Then Ritual Union kicked me right in the chest and I’m still dizzy. It’s working its way up to be quite likely my #1 of 2011 so far, beating out two albums that I thought were pretty locked in.